Game of her life from age of 6
Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis reflects on her past as player and role as mentor to national women’s team
FOOTBALL is Banyana Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis’s life. The sport is all she has known since she was a little girl in Heideveld and Salt River, Cape Town, in the 1970s.
“I started playing football with boys at the age of 6. I joined the girls’ team only at the age of 15. Before that, I didn’t know there was girls’ football. It wasn’t well known because there weren’t many girls playing football,” she says.
When she turned 16, her parents took over the club she played for and all her sisters were forced to play the game. “They used to say girls shouldn’t play football… If you have the support of your parents, mindsets and perceptions can be changed. With the national team doing so well, everyone now knows about women’s football.”
Today, parents saw the value in their daughters playing football. “They (Banyana players) have degrees, and some get scholarships from overseas. Varsity football is so big.”
Ellis reflects on how the members of the national team are like family.
“You cannot be a coach and not care. It’s important to know who the individual is, get to know more about them. It’s important to know more about players to get the most out of them. I’m really a softy at heart, and sometimes players take advantage.”
As warm as she is, she tries to be firm. She believes there needs to be a balance between the two. “They need to know that they can come to you with any problem.”
Ellis gives credit to her assistant coaches. “We know each other outside of the team. It’s not just me. Everyone plays their part, analyses the opposition, and we come up with a plan. The players execute the plan.”
Now she has her eye on the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela challenge on January 19 and 22, where Banyana will face the Netherlands and Sweden. “I’m excited about facing them. We played Sweden this year, so it was very good preparation,” she says.
On Banyana finishing as runners-up to Nigeria in the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, she says: “The players were up for the Afcon. Even when we won the first game, we were saying ‘this is just the first’. It was disappointing we didn’t win against Nigeria but the players gave it their all. We want people to remember Banyana when we leave the World Cup (in France in June and July.”
BANYANA Banyana head coach Desiree Ellis at Safa House Johannesburg. She regards the players like members of her family. | BHEKIKHAYA MABASO African News Agency (ANA)